Rural homelessness: a hidden crisis in West Michigan
Abbey Sladick - GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) - There is a hidden crisis in West Michigan. While we don't usually see individuals and families experiencing homelessness in suburban and rural areas, the Housing and Urban Development estimates that nearly 30% of people experiencing homelessness are outside of the city (HUD, 2015).
These individuals and families are sleeping in their car, in tents, in motels or double or tripled up in uninhabitable living situations.
There is very little specific data available in West Michigan to tell the story of exactly how many people in suburban and rural Kent County are without a home, however, a good indicator is some of the alarming statistics provided to us through our school districts and their homeless liaisons. MLive recently reported enrollment data from the 2016-2017 school year.
- Forest Hills: 43 homeless students
- Grand Rapids: 797 homeless students
- Sparta: 62 homeless students
- Lowell: 49 homeless students
Ottawa County (2015-2016 data)
- Coopersville: 31 homeless students
- Grand Haven: 214 homeless students
- Holland: 277 homeless students
- Hudsonville: 95 homeless students
- Zeeland: 53 homeless students
Tackling the need
After realizing the significant gap in support services in the suburban and rural areas, Mel Trotter Ministries was invited in by Cedar Springs Public Schools to form a partnership. MTM provides a staff outreach advocate to support the district and surrounding agencies such as Lean on Me Outreach and North Kent Connect. The outreach advocate is there to collect data on rural homelessness with the goal to eventually help bring more funding and resources to outlying areas of the city. Until then, MTM's outreach advocate connects people with local resources and also gets referrals from 2-1-1/United Way to help divert families from homelessness whenever possible.
The group of nonprofits partnering in the diversion program are: Mel Trotter Ministries, the Coalition to End Homelessness, Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Urban League, Housing Assessment Program at the Salvation Army, Inner City Christian Federation, Kent Intermediate School District, North Kent Community Services, Degage and Department of Health and Human Services.
How can you help?
- Reach out to your school district and ask about the needs. Many times, kids need food, clothing and other school supplies to help them succeed while at school. Every school has a homeless liaison.
- Support agencies like the ones listed above. At Mel Trotter Ministries, you can volunteer, donate your vehicle, shop or donate at one of the Thrift Stores, give a financial donation, get your church involved, get your company involved.
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